Candidate for Shoreline board runs as voice for Latinos

David Briggs
Avito Miranda, who is running against two incumbents for one of a pair of seats on the Shoreline Unified School District board, said his bid is based on simple arithmetic. Latinos constitute a majority in the school district, yet they have no representative on the school board. “They make up 60 percent,” he said, “so at a minimum at least three need to be Latino.”
10/10/2013

A political newcomer is challenging the incumbents in the race for two seats on the Shoreline Unified School District board. If elected, Avito Miranda, a 47-year-old business owner and Inverness resident, would be the only Latino member on the board. His campaign has launched the first contested election since 2007. 

On November 5, he will square off with Tim Kehoe and Jim Lino, each of whom bring more than a decade of experience as trustees. The two members elected will help manage an $11 million budget for 400 students at six schools spanning a geographic area stretching from Point Reyes Station to southwestern Sonoma County. Both will represent Trustee Area 1, which includes Inverness, Point Reyes Station and Olema.

Mr. Miranda’s unprecedented campaign comes during huge a demographic shift in the district. Latino students made up a majority of the student body for the first time last year, yet they have underperformed on state tests compared to their white counterparts in an achievement gap that has widened over the last two school years. 

Mr. Miranda said the void in Hispanic representation on the board is what prompted him to run. The Puerto Rican native was raised in Spain, moved to West Marin in the 90’s and owns a security firm in San Rafael. 

His wife and two of his children graduated from Tomales High School, and his youngest is a fifth grader at West Marin Elementary. He is actively involved in ELAC, an organization that promotes Latino integration in schools and the larger community.

“If you go to the school at lunch time and see the line, you are going to see the necessity of having Latinos on the board who understand,” Mr. Miranda said. “For me and for the Latinos behind me telling me to please do it, it’s really necessary.”

He said he knows from experience how difficult it can be to approach somebody with a different language or culture about the issues they care about in school. If elected, he hopes to be someone Latino parents or students can reach out to for help. He said he hopes to give them a voice.

While Mr. Miranda did not want to present school-specific proposals for addressing the district’s achievement gap, he said having a Latino representative on board would broaden the discussion. “When I’m part of the board, there would be more answers for that question,” he said.

“I’m not a politician,” he added. “I try to be honest.”

The last time an Area 1 challenger faced off against two incumbents was in 2001, when Tim Kehoe defeated Augusto Conde, while Jim Love retained his seat.

Even if he does not win a seat, Mr. Miranda said he hopes he will inspire others. “Another Latino might be inspired: ‘If Avito can do it, I can do it,’” he said. “That is good enough for me, to put that grain there to nurture other Latinos to be involved.”

Mr. Kehoe, 51, currently serves as the board president. A dairyman and fourth-generation Inverness resident, Mr. Kehoe said he is running for reelection because of his family’s long connection to the job. His father and grandfather both served on the board, and his great-grandfather was a county supervisor. All three of his children graduated from Tomales High.

“I bring a historical perspective and drive to see the school district succeed and improve,” he said. “I enjoy being part of the process.”

He said he would continue to promote fiscal responsibility by sharing services with bordering school districts. 

As enrollment in the district has declined, coordination with Bolinas-Stinson, Lagunitas and Nicasio may be a way to limit expenditures, he said. 

The board has approved sharing transportation and a special education coordinator and is looking into sharing business services and other administrators, possibly even a superintendent, Mr. Kehoe said.

Mr. Kehoe also cited progress in test scores over the last four years, a three percent improvement on state measurements since the end of the 2009-10 school year. “It’s not as much as we’d like, but I think it’s a work in progress,” he said.

A key issue during the next term will be ensuring progress in every school and demographic group, he said. He would be willing to support a dual immersion program, in which both English and Spanish classes would be taught, if trustees from areas farther north supported it. 

His hope for the district, he said, is to give each student “everything we can to see them succeed.”

Mr. Lino, 55, was first elected to the school board in 1995 and served for three terms, including a stint as its president. After a two-year hiatus, a seat opened in 2009, and he was appointed to his current term. A homebuilder and Inverness Park resident, Mr. Lino watched his three children attend Inverness and West Marin Elementary Schools.

He said his many years of experience qualify him to serve for another term. In every decision he makes, he considers it his responsibility “to do what is very best for the kids” in the region. “The acid test is, ‘Is this the best decision for the students?’” he said.

During his tenure, Mr. Lino worked to pass two school improvement bonds and three parcel taxes, which he said provide money for a laundry list of programs, including arts, counseling and physical education, and helped to rebuild school facilities. The district boasts some of the highest spending per student in the state, and the second highest in the county behind Bolinas-Stinson Union School
District. 

One of the continuing challenges in the district is closing the achievement gap on standardized tests, on which Latino students scored 125 points lower last year on the 1,000-point scale. Mr. Lino said he supports the idea of a dual immersion program, but wants to see more research about how well it would work at Shoreline.

“I am constantly thinking what is the best way to close that gap,” he said.

The Area 1 race will challenge voters to ask which qualities they would like to see in their two elected representatives—the experience of a former or current board president, or a board that better reflects the district’s changing demographics.

The voters in Area 3, which includes Dillon Beach, Valley Ford and Bodega, will have a much easier time come November. Incumbent Jane Healey is running unopposed and will not appear on the ballot.